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CNN Live Saturday

Interview With Photographer Burt Glinn

Aired May 11, 2002 - 12:17   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN ANCHOR: When Fidel Castro entered Havana in 1959, it was a moment for history books. And Burt Glinn was among three Western photographers who accompanied Castro on the journey. His book, "Havana: The Revolutionary Moment," captures that turning point in history, and Burt Glinn joins us now live from New York to share that experience.

Talk about being a witness to history. Wow, what is your strongest memory of that time?

BURT GLINN, PHOTOGRAPHER: My strongest memory is actually getting there on time. I was at a New Year's Eve party in New York with some "New York Times" people, and a phone call came that Battista had fled, and I immediately borrowed money from everybody, went home, changed clothes, caught a plane to Miami from La Guardia. And in Miami Airport, which was empty at 2:00 in the morning on New Year's morning, I found a card from a pilot who flew light planes to Havana. And I woke him up, and he agreed to fly me into Havana.

And we got in at dawn. And it was chaos. There was nobody in charge, there was no government. Battista had fled. They had formed a junta of army officers, but it wasn't accepted. And Castro was in Santiago and calling for a general strike. So it was apparent that he was going to be the leader, but we didn't know where he was.

I spent two days in Havana, and then photographing the political prisoners, the secret police prisoners. And then I made my way to Santa Clara, because we looked at a map and we knew Fidel was in Santiago and that he had to come through Santa Clara. And I found him making a speech in Santa Clara, and for the next four days I just stuck with him.

MESERVE: And your good instincts paid off. Let's look at some of the photographs that you took back in 1959, and why don't you give us a sense of what we're looking at. This looks like it must have been in Havana.

GLINN: This was in Havana on New Year's Day. Everybody all of a sudden was a revolutionary. They all grabbed arms, whatever they had, machetes, rifles and went out in the street and started shooting at practically nothing because there was no shooting coming back. But a lot of bullets going the same way can be pretty dangerous too. And this was a woman at the university, which was a stronghold of the revolutionary movement even under Battista, and she was a strong image there.

MESERVE: And let's move onto the next one if we can. What's this?

GLINN: This is in Havana after we arrived from four or five days on the road coming into Havana. Fidel had gone from village to village making speeches, and nobody knew where he was going. There was no program, there was no press officer, nobody to tell you don't do that or we're going to go here. And when we got to Havana, there was an explosion of joy and all kinds of things, and these are people just dancing in the streets.

And that's a joke, actually. There was a light photographer named Grey Valet (ph), and he got that gun and he asked me to take a picture of him, and I did. And he says, here, I'll take a picture of you. But I've never used the gun except in the Second World War.

MESERVE: Great. And let's move on. What's this one?

GLINN: Yeah, I got my glasses on. These are people -- as I say, he went -- he worked his way through the countryside very casually. And finally -- but on the second or third day, on the second day in Havana, Che Guevara and his troops arrived, and this was one of the troops, young men with Che Guevara, talking to probably the first civilian, well-dressed woman he had seen in months. And I guess it shows on his face.

MESERVE: It shows the contrast. Yeah. What's this last one? This is Fidel himself.

GLINN: Yeah. They had no transport, and they just liberated whatever they could. There were buses and trucks and tanks, which they didn't really know how to drive yet. And people came on bicycles. It was really a rag-tag procession, but every once in a while we had to get gas and we would stop at a gas station and Fidel would pay for the whole column in cash, and that was a lady at her gas station that was giving him advice about how to run the country.

MESERVE: Your impression of Fidel Castro. Is he a man of tremendous magnetism?

GLINN: He is incredible. He's -- you know, Americans like to have heroes and villains, and this is a very nuanced man. He's very complicated, and he has incredible charm. Forty-three years after these pictures were taken, I had an exhibit of them in Havana, and we went to Havana, and Fidel had been invited to the exhibit, but he didn't come. But then I got a message from the Ministry of Culture that he wanted to see us. He'd heard about the exhibit.

So my wife and my 19-year-old son and I were his guests for three hours of conversation. And he was utterly charming, and naturally it was just sort of a personal visit rather than a journalistic visit, but he made me a hero to my son forever, because he offered him a drink of rum. For a 19-year-old kid, that was very good.

MESERVE: OK, Burt Glinn, we have to leave it there. Thanks so much for joining us today to share your photos with us.

GLINN: Thank you.

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